Tests to Predict Puppy Temperament and Personality

Measuring Puppy’s Stability, Shyness, Aggressiveness, and Friendliness

Temperament tests can help predict which pups will be more laid back and which more "driven" so you can best choose for your family. Image Copr. DogPhoto.com/Getty Images

Think of puppy temperament testing as a canine crystal ball used to identify your puppy’s personality to predict—and so manage—potential future problems. Temperament tests measure a puppy’s stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness.

Every pup in a litter is different, and where you find your puppy also impacts behavior. Figuring out a puppy’s potential helps match him to the best owner—and helps owners pick the perfect match. There are ranges of behaviors, of course, and some pups may be more or less shy or outgoing. But if the pup shows unprovoked aggression, panics and can’t overcome this, or exhibits strong avoidance, that’s a pup that may need more rehabilitation work or socialization than most owners are able to provide.

Kinds Of Tests

There’s no one-size-fits-all. Some are used by breeders to assess Schutzhund performance or tracking ability, for example. Shelters use temperament tests to measure general temperament and suitability for adoption. Still others test dogs for their therapy or assistance dog potential. Most also test for aggression.

As your breeder or shelter what temperament tests, if any, have been performed and the result. They may use these to choose your puppy for you, based on what you’re looking for or your experience level/home environment you’re able to provide. For instance, an experienced owner would do better handling a pushy puppy, and a fenced yard might be required for a “nosy” breed obsessed with running off after scents.

Prediction Isn’t Perfect

Personality and temperament aren’t cast in stone at birth. Early experience, socialization, development and the consequences of learning all impact your puppy’s future behavior.

Resistance to handling, possessive aggression, territorial vocalization, excessive reactivity and many forms of fear might not emerge until the dog is older. Testing puppies as late as possible—at three to four months—may be more accurate. If you can recognize the potential for negative behaviors, you can diminish the impact.

Shelter pups (especially older ones) may test with fearfulness or aggression in the shelter, and behave very differently once out of the stress of an overwhelming environment. Socialization and training can overcome many potential problems so what’s predicted doesn’t always HAVE to happen.

5 Tests Owners Can Do

You can also perform modified tests yourself. Use the following basics to see how your puppy performs. Tests for puppies between seven and ten weeks of age often include these basics:

  • Cradle pup on his back like a baby, place a hand gently on his chest and look directly in his eyes. Pups that accept this handling are considered biddable, while those that resist are more likely to be independent-minded.
  • Hold pup suspended under her armpits with hind legs dangling, while looking directly in eyes. Again, those pups that submit are said to have a low score for willfulness, while those that struggle may want to do things their own way.
  • Drop keys or tin pan to test him for noise sensitivity.
  • See how pup reacts to a stranger entering the room—or to being left alone in the room. Does she run and greet, or cower and cry?

Here’s one more test helpful especially for older puppies. Place the individual puppy with his breeder (or shelter worker) in a room with new toys, and see how the pup reacts when the person leaves. Pups usually fall into three broad categories:

  • Couldn’t care less when owners left or came back perhaps indicating a tendency toward more independent, willful behavior or improper bonding
  • Super needy who whined and ignored toys when owners left and clung to owners when present, suggesting overattachment predictive of future separation anxiety
  • Middle of the road paid attention to owners’ coming and goings, but not traumatized and enjoyed toys, suggesting a healthy attachment and easygoing personality without the need of either firmness or coddling.